Nightingale courts open for another six months to ease backlog

The Government has said it will keep 32 Nightingale courts open until the end of next March in a bid to ease the backlog in cases.

Temporary court rooms opened at Maple House in Birmingham earlier this year
Temporary court rooms opened at Maple House in Birmingham earlier this year

The temporary courtrooms, which were initially set up in the midst of the pandemic as case delays surged, include four sites in the West Midlands.

Ministers said 32 courtrooms will remain open for the next six months in the battle to reduce a backlog that has now surpassed 60,000 cases.

Justice Minister Chris Philp told the Commons: "I'm pleased to tell the House there are currently 47 Nightingale courtrooms in operation, of which 28 are used for crown court purposes, and we are in the process of extending the operation of 32 of those until the end of March, which I am sure colleagues across the House will welcome.

"In addition to that, we are in the process of reopening 60 existing courtrooms in the crown court estate which had been closed due to social distancing. Over half of those have been reopened already.

"When all of that has been done we expect to have around about 500 crown courtrooms available, well over half will be capable of accommodating jury trials."

The Nightingale courts include two rooms for crown court cases at Wolverhampton's Park Hall Hotel, and two hearing spaces at Maple House in Birmingham, which also has two separate civil and family courtrooms.

Meanwhile three temporary courtrooms are still in operation at Telford Justice Centre for civil and family cases. The Nightingale court at Stafford's Shire Hall closed in June.

Labour says the delays can not just be put down to the pandemic, with court closures and "a decade of Tory cuts" to the justice system also contributing.

Mr Philip said the number of outstanding cases was "principally a function of the pandemic", and that the backlog in March 2020 was around 39,000 - a figure he said was "substantially lower than the 47,000 bequeathed by the last Labour government".

He added: "I have laid out the investment being made in court recovery, including the quarter of a billion pounds being spent, and the fact that there is no limitation this financial year on crown court sitting days."

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Sir David Thompson is among those to warn of the consequences of prolonged court delays.

Speaking to the Star in July he said the situation was "one of the biggest post-Covid challenges we face as a country", and warned the longer cases were held "pending court" the greater the chance that victims would drop out of prosecutions.

At Wolverhampton, Stafford and Birmingham crown courts at the end of March there were nearly 3,800 outstanding cases, including nearly 1,000 involving allegations of serious violence.

Last week a new 'super courtroom' opened in Manchester to cater for larger trials of up to 12 defendants.

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